Sunday, May 31, 2009

Religious Persecution – It’s Not Just For Third-World Countries Anymore

In San Diego county this week, there is news of a pastor and his wife being threatened by county authorities for holding a 15-member Bible study at their home each week. It appears that the authorities got wind of the Bible study and approached the pastor’s wife with some specific questions.

"The county asked, 'Do you have a regular meeting in your home?' She said, 'Yes.' 'Do you say amen?' 'Yes.' 'Do you pray?' ' Yes.' 'Do you say praise the Lord?' ' Yes.'"

As a result, the couple was told that they were in violation of land-use regulations, and that they should "stop religious assembly or apply for a major use permit". I am not making this up – click the link above to see the San Diego news article.

Now, it’s my prediction that this event will go away quietly. There is certainly a lot of blog traffic on this article, and some higher-up at City Hall will see that the best thing for everyone is to write a note of apology to the couple and move on. They certainly will not pursue this any further, for fear of the firestorm that it would bring down.

But here’s what bothers me. It’s the first step toward a future where this kind of religious persecution could happen in our country. The fact that this event got as far as it did is just one more hammer blow for state-mandated control of individual rights. This incident may go away for a year or two, but then another will occur. And then another. And each one may go a little further down the path, until one day, it will be illegal to hold a Bible study in your own home. You think it can’t happen in this country? That may be what the Russian people thought at the beginning of the twentieth century – when they were a Christian nation. But look what happened when the likes of Lenin, Stalin, and Khrushchev came to power. People began dying for their faith, and the Russian nation became known as a godless people.

What should we do? Well, it might be nice to say we should put more Christian leaders into politics and combat the anti-Christian culture. And that may be what God has in mind for some people. But I’m coming to see that God can use evil events for His good purposes. I have no doubt that my own faith would become much stronger if I were told to cease preaching Christ. Indeed, that may be the very thing required to break the mold of mediocrity that I glimpse in our nation. God has used religious persecution to do great things for His kingdom in the past.

And so I choose not to go into politics – but to pray for God’s will to be done in whatever happens in this country over the next few years. In a brilliant article last November, Cal Thomas wrote about this very thing. He advised, rather than continue to pound our heads against the moral corruption that exists in our political system, that we should try something fresh and transformational. We should emulate Christ and “’love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit those in prison and care for widows and orphans,’ not as ends, as so many liberals do by using government, but as a means of demonstrating God’s love for the whole person in order that people might seek Him.” I encourage you to read the article.

I like that. It is the very thing that Christ did when he was here on earth. He didn’t seek power, or election to public office in order to change the culture. Instead, he went about displaying God’s love and truth amongst the world of everyday people.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Homeschool Lesson – Economics and the Stock Market

One of the many joys of homeschooling is that my wife and I can get very creative when teaching a lesson. I designed a course on Economics for the last half of this year, relying heavily on the book Whatever Happened to Penny Candy? It’s a good read, and engenders many of the conservative qualities that we are instilling in our children. We have had a great year learning about inflation, the money supply, why to avoid debt, the reason that coins are no longer made from precious metal, etc. I’m thinking about putting the course outline and weekly homework questions into a product that I can make available to the homeschooling community at large.

For the last four weeks of the year, I decided to add to the curriculum and design a “contest” to teach some principles of investing in the stock market. I invited all three children to participate, and even provided some incentive for them to do well (if there’s not a feeling of true loss or gain involved, the lesson could seem a little less exciting…and less real, as well). The rules that I laid out to them were these:

· You will start with $10,000 of cyber-money to invest (no real money changes hands at this point!)
· You may own as few as zero or as many as five different stocks at a time
· Money not held in stocks will be kept in a Money Market account earning zero interest
· For a $10 cyber-fee per trade, stocks may be purchased at the end of any given day - the student may use day-trade or buy-and-hold strategies
· An e-mail summary, with tables and charts of the account value will be e-mailed to the student each day
· At the end of four weeks, I will pay 1%, in real money, of any account value over the initial $10,000
· Any student with an account falling below the initial $10,000 at the end of the four week period will be evaluated for special chores

The contest was pretty popular when it started – I know that the kids were thinking of their own little get-rich-quick scenarios. Just buy low and sell high – nothing to it. And the timing was in their favor. The contest started about the time that the stock market was at a seven-year low. The Dow Industrial average actually rose from 7841 to 8331 during this period, as it rebounded a bit after the housing and credit crisis. That’s a 6.2% increase in just four weeks.

So how did they do? The trend chart for the biggest stock loser is shown at the right. This child (we’ll call them Child “A”) started out with a pretty risky portfolio, buying a lot of General Motors (GM) when it fell below the $2 mark. After it continued to fall further, there was a hasty action to dump the stock and buy Apple Computers (AAPL) instead. While starting the contest with several risky and hurried trades, this child ate up quite a bit of money just in the overhead $10-per trade fees. In the end, the reported loss was $317. Chore time!

The second child (Child “B”) decided to buy what they knew – a good strategy – and purchased McDonald’s (MCD), Build-a-Bear (BBW) and Disney Studios (DIS). The trend started remarkably well, and this child’s account was in significantly positive territory right up until the last week of the contest. But consumers must have stopped building their own bears, because the stock suddenly took a sharp downturn. The end result – a loss of $99. Not devastating, but Child “B” was a little disappointed, nonetheless. More chores!

The third child – and the winner of the overall contest – has always been the conservative one of the bunch. I wonder if those of you who know our family will be able to guess who it is? This child (Child “C”) chose never to purchase any stocks, claiming that they didn’t like to spend money on “anything that they couldn’t wear!” Even after repeated invitations on my part, and the offer of a couple of free trades, I couldn’t get this one to budge. And in the end, this child had the best short-term stock trading strategy.

What a great learning opportunity for all of us! It is certainly not my intent to recommend explicitly against buying stocks. As this was a short-term contest, it’s probably not a completely fair assessment of trading in the market. But all three of my kids learned some important lessons, namely: 1) there is no get-rich-quick guarantee in the market, 2) at its core, stock trading is really not much different from gambling in Las Vegas, and 3) the person making the trades for a paltry $10 each is the one who really makes the money.

And that would be me. My next task is to create a fabulous summer chore chart.


If anyone would like to guess who Child A, B, and C are, feel free to leave a comment. I’ll post the answer in a week.

Also, if you are reading this and are interested in having your children participate in just such an exercise (without the real monetary reward!), I am considering offering a five-week, home-school Economics course – daily e-mail stock account updates, along with conservative economics and investing principles will be taught. It will be enough for a quarter’s credit in Economics. Please contact me at if you are interested.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Today, I Remember…

My wife and I had the privilege of visiting Paris twice over the last six years. For me, the first trip was the most memorable, as it was my first time in that city. We immersed ourselves in everything that we could for seven straight days. If you’ve ever been to Paris, you know that this is not nearly enough to see all that the city has to offer.

One of the most memorable days of our trip was a day spent driving back and forth from a little town called Colleville-sur-Mer, on the northwest coast of France. The area is more commonly known as Normandy, and it contains the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. You may remember seeing it at the beginning and end of the movie Saving Private Ryan.

Visiting the cemetery was a sobering experience for me. Overlooking Omaha Beach, it is now a perfectly manicured resting place for 9,387 American soldiers who died in World War II. The majority of the men buried there were killed during the D-Day invasion of June 6, 1944.

Today is Memorial Day, when we take time to recall the military men and women who gave their lives to ensure the ongoing freedoms in our country. I’m continually amazed at the stories of sacrifice that came from the various conflicts in which our nation has been involved. And nothing has moved me more than walking through that pristine cemetery in France. Today, I remember:

· The perfect alignment of every headstone – some represented by crosses, some by the Star of David. These men’s graves are being properly attended to.
· The sheer number of graves and the size of the cemetery is staggering
· Omaha Beach, which lies directly between the cemetery and the ocean, is very steep. It must have been a challenge for men to get across the beach, up that hill, and to the Germans who were posted at the top of the rise in machine-gun bunkers.
· Unlike most cemeteries, where people are buried facing east (presumably to face Jesus when he “splits the eastern sky”), these men are all buried facing west, toward their homeland of the United States
· There is a memorial and statue at one end of the cemetery. On the walls of the memorial are over 1500 names – men who were lost in the conflict, but were never found.

Lastly, I think of the determination of these men, as portrayed in the opening scenes of Saving Private Ryan, when their troop landing craft were approaching the beach. Moments away, the door at the front of the craft would be lowered, and there would likely be an enemy machine gun pointed at the men as they ran for the beach. They went anyway.

Thank you.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Is It Possible To Be Fair-Minded About Abortion?

President Obama gave the graduation commencement speech last weekend at Notre Dame. The bitter irony is that Notre Dame professes to be a Catholic university and the Catholic faith is staunchly opposed to abortion - a procedure to which our President is clearly not opposed. While there were many protests over him being allowed to speak and to receive an honorary degree from the institution, the university officials decided to proceed with the address.

The president made a remarkable statement during his speech regarding the abortion issue. He encouraged both sides of the issue to have a “fair-minded” discussion about the issue. He wants them to “work together to reduce the number of women seeking abortions”. I must ask this question – has the president heeded his own words? Has he done anything but work to increase the availability and public funding of abortions? Tragically, with heart breaking and tears flowing, I must say that he has not (see “Weep With Me” for specifics).

How does one go about being fair-minded about abortion? For people like me, abortion is as evil and reprehensible as is murder or rape (I believe it is murder). So what would happen if I substituted these equivalent words into his statement? “Let’s work together to reduce the number of parents committing murder”, or “Let’s work together to reduce the number of women being raped. Let’s have everyone be fair-minded about the issue and not resort to caricature.” Such words would be offensive to nearly everyone. And as such, when the president uses these same words in an attempt to straddle the proverbial abortion issue fence, I am deeply offended. I cannot help how strongly I feel about a procedure which destroys life made by God and which further promotes the removal of God’s blessing from our nation. The president has the power within his hands to do the right thing…and he has wasted it.

It’s not a politically correct thing to be so intently one-sided on an issue. Influences from all around, and even from friends and family, can make us soft on a topic which has enormous importance to God. Several years ago, I participated in a pro-life rally and was given a sign reading “Abortion Kills”. I was instructed to hold it high and wave it at passing cars on the street. I admit that I felt guilty waving the sign, because part of me didn’t want to offend, part of me didn’t want to be the one to remind women driving down the street of their role in a past abortion, and part of me wanted to find a way to be more “fair-minded” about the issue. I’m still not convinced that holding a sign up on the street corner is the correct or best way to make my statement. But I know that Jesus Christ would not shun the chance to boldly proclaim God’s truth when necessary. Neither would other great men of faith – Noah, Moses, Joshua, Gideon, and Paul. There may be a more ethical and caring way to get out the message – but the fact remains that I need to work to ensure that God’s side of the story is fearlessly preached. This is a hard thing sometimes.

John Piper (, author of countless books about the joyous relationship with God and a bold preacher of God’s truth, has recently posted a chilling and inspirational video of words he preached on the topic of abortion. The name of the sermon was “The Baby in My Womb Leaped for Joy”. Mitch Majeski, who I am proud to call a good friend and who is a bold preacher of God’s Word as well, tipped me to this this video on his blog recently. After watching it, I was moved beyond anything I have ever felt about the abortion issue – and am motivated more by this video clip than any other I have ever viewed. These words are powerful. Piper leads up to a crescendo of reason and truth, and then humbly vows to…pray for our president. It’s a remarkable conclusion for such a powerful three minutes of build-up. It has inspired me to spend time each week praying specifically for all those families considering an abortion, and for all the doctors who will pick up the knife tomorrow to perform the procedure. Please watch….and join me in praying for God’s divine will to be done.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Black Swan – Inferring the Existence of God

My wife claims that I read some very strange books. Recently, I came home from the library with Nassim Taleb’s The Black Swan – The Impact of the Highly Improbable. She picked it up and read the inside liner – “A Black Swan is a highly improbable event with three principle characteristics: It is unpredictable; it carries a massive impact; and, after the fact, we concoct an explanation that makes it appear less random, and more predictable than it was. The astonishing success of Google was a Black Swan; so was 9/11. For Nassim Nicholas Taleb, black swans underlie almost everything about our world…” Wendy just shook her head.

I’ve probably already lost some readers by writing that opening paragraph, but if you are still reading this and if you believe that you have a something of a mathematical mind, I highly recommend this book. It opened my eyes to see that events much larger than we can typically imagine are the events that truly shape our world. And the author makes a clear point – anyone who tries to create models that predict the stock market, weather, or the course of history are simply armed with too little information to be accurate in the long run. There are no known models to correctly predict things of this nature. My apologies to the global warming…er, I mean, climate change, crowd.

The story of the black swan analogy goes like this. Before the discovery of Australia, all swans that had ever been seen in the world were white. It was a reasonable conclusion to say that “all swans are white”. After all, no other color had ever been observed by humans. But when mankind “discovered” Australia, lo and behold, they sighted a species of jet black swans. Given the information that they had before these swans were sighted, was there any way to predict the existence of a black swan? No, there was not, and so it was bad science to simply assume that all swans are white. The point is this – we don’t know what we don’t know. Even at this very moment, we dismiss the idea that a green swan could exist – simply because we have never seen one. But does that actually prove the point?

Similarly, Taleb notes, “We are not naïve enough to believe that someone will be immortal because we have never seen him die, or that someone is innocent of murder because we have never seen him kill.” And yet, we often draw conclusions of the same nature – that the stock market is now crash-proof, or that there is no longer any way to hijack a plane.

Philosopher David Hume made the point in the mid-18th century that we cannot reasonably draw valid conclusions simply based on inductive reasoning – that is, just because we have observed something happen repeatedly does not guarantee that it will continue to happen in the future. Taleb makes this point using the excellent analogy of the life of a turkey.

Suppose you are a turkey (I have to smile at that opening). Your every waking moment for the four months of your life to adulthood consists of roaming the barnyard, basking in the sun, and watching the kind farmer turn out to feed you twice a day. For your entire turkey life, there is no departure from this routine – and there is no reason to believe that things will be otherwise.

But the farmer knows more than the turkey does, and on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, he changes his routine. Unaware of the holiday tradition, the turkey makes his contribution to the Thanksgiving dinner. He never knew that this was part of the overall plan - but for the farmer, it was always known. For the turkey, the final day of his life was a Black Swan event. Nothing in his “turkey model” predicted the change, but it happened anyway.

Reading Taleb’s book, I can’t help but think that the analogy applies equally as well to our relationship with God. From our standpoint, like that of the turkey, we cannot conceive of the full course of history, especially the future. But for God, this is easy. Our limited viewpoint may cause us to doubt the existence of God for a time, and some will draw the incorrect conclusion that there simply is no God. But we must realize that in this life, we will always be the turkey. God understands much more than we can conceive or imagine. And thankfully for us, 1 Corinthians 2:9 proves this point – “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him”. The Second Coming of Jesus will be a Black Swan event – unless you’re expecting him.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Polarizing Principle

If you own a pair of polarized sunglasses, try this experiment. Hold them up and look through them at an item that contains an LCD display – maybe your car stereo or a digital watch. The LCD-type is the kind that has black numerals that seem to float - the earliest digital watches were LCD-type displays. Rotate the sunglasses by ninety-degrees while watching the LCD through them. If they are polarized, the numbers will gradually disappear and only black will show through. Or take two pair of polarized sunglasses and look through both of them while rotating them different ways. You will notice that nothing can be seen through them if you hold them at right angles to each other. The point of the exercise is to demonstrate this – when looking at two items that are polarized in different directions, no light gets through.

Personalities can be polarizing, too. Many politicians can be said to have a polarizing effect on people - none more so than Hillary Clinton. People either adore her or have a strong aversion to her. I’ve never met anyone that felt ambivalent about Mrs. Clinton, or who had not yet formed an opinion of her. She elicits a strong reaction, whether it be good or bad, from nearly everyone.

Becoming a polarizing person requires that one have a strong opinion on nearly every subject, and that one does not waver from their position in an effort to just “get along” with everyone. A forceful belief that you are right usually accompanies this personality. So it may come as a surprise to many that one of the most polarizing figures in history was Jesus Christ.

We live in an age where Jesus is often presented as a multi-cultural, infinitely-open-minded philosopher who went around spreading peace and goodwill to mankind. However, while Jesus wanted what was best and right for mankind, he did not compromise in his presentation of right and wrong. In his book The Truth War, John Macarthur exposes the new “emerging church” as a place where open-mindedness and uncertainty about what is right is actually treasured. He points out that “the idea that the Christian message should be kept pliable and ambiguous seems especially attractive to young people who are in tune with the culture and in love with the spirit of the age.” Indeed, it almost seems fashionable in some circles to deny that a single truth really exists.

But make no mistake about it, Jesus Christ was a tipping point for everyone who came in contact with him. Unlike the portrayals of him by some people today, Jesus insisted on pointing out his Father’s absolute truth to people. And his boldness in doing this caused people to either embrace him wholeheartedly…..or to walk away from him. In John 6:53-66, Jesus tells his disciples exactly what they must do to gain eternal life. Their response was to reply, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” Instead of backpedaling in order to please his followers, Jesus says, "Does this offend you? What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe." And the reaction to this was that “many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him”.

See also John 7:12 – “Among the crowds there was widespread whispering about him. Some said, "He [Jesus] is a good man." Others replied, "No, he deceives the people."” Clearly, Jesus had a decision-making effect upon people. It had to be hard for him to be so blunt, knowing that some would forever forfeit their future in heaven because they simply could not accept this teaching. They were not willing to give their lives into whatever service that God called them to, but were more interested in pursuing their own path. But when two different viewpoints meet which have polarizing points of view, the light of truth does not get through.

In my own life, I am growing more convinced that I must adopt a more polarizing approach to proclaiming God’s truth. It may cost me opportunities in a worldly sense, and it may be done at the expense of a friendship or two. People walked away from Jesus because he could not waver from the truth. And while it will never be my goal to purposely drive anyone away from what is right, it should not surprise me when it happens – if I truly teach as Jesus taught.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Songs I Can’t Sing Anymore – Part 3

I grew up listening to rock and roll from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. I have always maintained that there is no era of music that I prefer to listen to more, and I listened to a lot of it in college and during the years before my wife and I had children. I amassed over two-hundred albums on vinyl over the years, before compact discs took over. I have spent a great deal of time over the last couple of years transferring this music to my iPod. As I’ve recently begun listening to this music again, I have been struck by the lyrics of many of the songs – seen anew from a refreshed Christian perspective. I believe that I listened only to the music back in my younger days, but today I actually pay attention to the lyrics. This is the first in a series of articles discussing the possible hidden (or overt) meaning in many songs I used to sing out loud -- without actually listening to what the words were saying.


Nearly everyone loves Fleetwood Mac. For many of the people in my generation, they were more than just a pop band with several number one hits. During their popular period, they had a following that approached cult status. And watching their occasional concerts on PBS, it seems to me that the people in the audience look far older than I do – but that might just be denial on my part…

The reason for Fleetwood Mac’s popularity goes beyond the singability and beauty of the music. The members of the band are surrounded by mystery and personal stories that would easily make tabloid headlines. Drug addiction, broken personal relationships within the band, on-stage abuse, and rumors of involvement with the Wicca religion swirl around this talented group of musicians, and these items have almost certainly added to their popularity. The on-again, off-again relationship between guitar-player/singer Lindsey Buckingham and singer Stevie Nicks has dominated much of the intrigue that makes up their image.

Stevie Nicks has furthered Fleetwood Mac’s air of mystery more than any other member of the band, capitalizing on her own “style” of clothing and lyrics. Early in her career with the band, she adopted billowing skirts, boots and jewelry designed to give her a hint of witchcraft. She played on this further by writing the song Rhiannon, and opening the song when performed live by saying, “This is a song about a Welsh witch”. She did little to dispel the rumor that she herself might be the witch in question until many years later. Without a doubt, this only increased the band’s popularity. Many people are drawn to mysterious religions – anything that might be a slap to the Christian religion, that is.

I love listening to the opening electric guitar licks to Rhiannon. They aren’t too hard to play, and they sound great once you learn them. The sound that Buckingham chose for the guitar is memorable. When the bass walk starts, and the drums begin, it’s an almost perfect song intro – at least in my mind. And that’s what I remember when I was growing up. The song would play over the tinny schoolbus speakers, and would still sound…..great. I purchased the album (vinyl back then) in college, and probably played it well over a hundred times. As I’ve stated before, I listened very little to the lyrics of songs back then, and focused mostly on trying to duplicate the music only. But if one listens to the song hard enough, you’ll hear:

She is like a cat in the dark

And then she is the darknesss

She rules her life like a fine skylark

And when the sky is starless

All your life you've never seen a woman

Taken by the wind

Would you stay if she promised you Heaven?

Will you ever win? Will you ever win?

I’m honestly not sure I can describe what the song is trying to get across. It’s enough to note that the lyrics leave a mysterious feeling that adds to the rumors that Stevie Nicks propagated. Is she a witch? Did she and the band practice secret Wiccan rituals after they finished a concert? Do the lyrics contain some hidden meaning that we should be concerned about?

Well, in this case, the answer might be “No”. Nicks has gone on record as saying that she is not a witch, and has never practiced witchcraft. In a 1998 interview, when asked about the Wiccan connection, she said, "I have no idea what precipitated those rumors...I am not a witch. Get a life!" She credits “a God looking out” for her to get her through her earlier drug addiction. And when Lindsay Lohan mentioned that she would like to play Nicks in a movie about her life, Nicks responded by saying, “She needs to stop doing drugs and get a grip. Then maybe we'll talk.” Maybe Stevie Nicks is not at all the big, bad witch that we’ve been led to believe.

But I have a point to make about the music of this genre. What do Christians raised on rock music (like me) fill our minds with? Do we continue to live in two worlds – one where we proclaim Christlikeness on Sunday, and one where we listen to New Age lyrics on weekdays? Does this have an effect on the quality of our service to God? Does it honor God to mimic these lyrics in the car while driving to work? As I grow older (and hopefully a little wiser), it seems to me that I need to focus every waking moment on glorifying God – not just because it is the right thing to do, but because any other act starts to seem cheap and selfish. Is this radical? Yes. Am I capable of spending every waking moment honoring God? Right now, the answer is “No”. Do I want to do better in the future, and concentrate only on things that glorify Him? Absolutely.

This is a hard lesson for me. Music is beautiful, and words are powerful. This music seems to lift me up to a different place. But the lyrics are often empty. Does anyone else experience this struggle?

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Songs I Can’t Sing Anymore – Part 2

I grew up listening to rock and roll from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. I have always maintained that there is no era of music that I prefer to listen to more, and I listened to a lot of it in college and during the years before my wife and I had children. I amassed over two-hundred albums on vinyl over the years, before compact discs took over. I have spent a great deal of time over the last couple of years transferring this music to my iPod. As I’ve recently begun listening to this music again, I have been struck by the lyrics of many of the songs – seen anew from a refreshed Christian perspective. I believe that I listened only to the music back in my younger days, but today I actually pay attention to the lyrics. This is the second in a series of articles discussing the possible hidden (or overt) meaning in many songs I used to sing out loud -- without actually listening to what the words were saying.


As a guitar player, I have always admired the music of Dan Fogelberg. He was a multi-talented musician, reportedly able to pick up almost any new instrument and immediately begin playing it as if he had invested years of practice. His voice was unique, and he often recorded all of the vocal and instrumental tracks on his records by himself (though he usually liked to turn over the drums to someone more accomplished). His words had an appeal to many, because they often had a searching and philosophical overtone that satisfied people’s need for more than just pop lyrics. I’ve sung many of his songs, either at talent shows or while wooing my wife-to-be during my college years. Those songs include the one I mention here – a fact which I now find almost unbelievable, given that I’ve been a Christian since the age of twelve.

Part of the Plan was released by Fogelberg in 1975, as the opening song on the Souvenirs album. It’s catchy, singable, and pretty easy to play on the guitar. The lyrics start out in a searching fashion, making you wonder if there’s more to life than what we’re experiencing:

I have these moments
All steady and strong
I'm feeling so holy and humble
The next thing I know
I'm all worried and weak
And I feel myself s
tarting to crumble.

The meanings get lost
And the teachings get tossed
And you don't know what you're
Going to do next.
You wait for the sun
But it never quite comes
Some kind of message comes
Through to you.
Some kind of message comes through.

This is a good start, seen from a Christian perspective. There is certainly a longing in life for more than what this world has to offer, if we choose to grasp only the things of this world. So what is the message that “came through” to Fogelberg? The chorus of the song tells us:

And it says to you...
Love when you can
Cry when you have to...
Be who you must
That's a part of the plan
Await your arrival
With simple survival
And one day we'll all understand...

Oops…problem. From a biblical perspective, “being who I must” is a recipe for disaster. The New Age worldview tells us to do this very thing – by following what our heart tells us. Even Christians make this slip quite often, saying “I followed my heart’s leading…” about some matter or another. But Jeremiah 17:9 tells us that “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” We are called to follow God’s example, left to us in the Holy Scriptures and the example of His Son, Jesus Christ. That is not necessarily “what I am” – in fact, it rarely is. Being like Christ takes a determination and perseverance that is not easy for me. The very thing that requires the least effort for me is to lapse into what I believe to be my true nature.

If this was not enough to ruin the song for me, the third verse clinches it:

There is no Eden or Heavenly gates
That you're gonna make it to one day
But all of the answers you seek can be found
In the dreams that you dream
On the way.

This verse saddens me. I’ve written before about Dan’s life, death, and his belief in between. His philosophy that “dreams” can take the place of a loving Father waiting for us in eternity leaves me cold and empty. While it sounds pretty to follow your dreams or to dream of a better world, the simple truth is that God offers an eternal, precious existence in His kingdom of heaven. But we must embrace and accept His offering as the free gift of grace that it is. Only He can save us, and this can be achieved only through His wondrous plan. This is more than the “simple survival” offered up by Fogelberg. It’s a lasting gift of eternity, as we live humbly before Him.


Next in the series... or

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Songs I Can’t Sing Anymore – Part 1

I grew up listening to rock and roll from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. I have always maintained that there is no era of music that I prefer to listen to more, and I listened to a lot of it in college and during the years before my wife and I had children. I amassed over two-hundred albums on vinyl over the years, before compact discs took over. I have spent a great deal of time over the last couple of years transferring this music to my iPod. As I’ve recently begun listening to this music again, I have been struck by the lyrics of many of the songs – seen anew from a refreshed Christian perspective. I believe that I listened only to the music back in my younger days, but today I actually pay attention to the lyrics. This is the first in a series of articles discussing the possible hidden (or overt) meaning in many songs I used to sing out loud -- without actually listening to what the words were saying.


The 1960’s were dominated by bands with an underlying New Age philosophy. Peace, free love, and rock and roll were all blended together in words that welcomed the dawning of the “the age of Aquarius”. One of my very favorite bands from this time frame is Crosby, Stills and Nash (and sometimes Young). I enjoy their music, if a bit rough and unpolished, and am mostly attracted to their incredible harmonies. I still try to mirror some of the high notes sung by Graham Nash in my own backup singing. Some of their vocal blending still gives me chills.

Recently, I was playing the So Far album from 1974, and came across the song Woodstock. Written by Joni Mitchell in 1969, it details elements of the famed Woodstock concert in a farmer’s field in Bethel, New York. While I used to mouth the words to the opening lines, it struck me for the very first time what the lyrics were actually saying. Give a listen:

Well, I came upon a child of God

He was walking along the road

And I asked him, Tell me, where are you going?

This he told me

Said, I'm going down to Yasgur's Farm,

Gonna join in a rock and roll band.

Got to get back to the land and set my soul free.

We are stardust, we are golden,

We are billion year old carbon,

And we got to get ourselves back to the garden.

Huh? Did I really used to sing “We are billion year old carbon” without blinking an eye? Sadly, the answer is “Yes”. Did I think about what I was singing at the time? Sadly, the answer is “No”.

These lyrics display a clear New Age influence. The 1969 idea of setting your soul free and getting back to the land sounds a lot like bumper stickers that we see on cars forty years later (“The Earth Is Your Mother”). These are not new New Age ideas. The desire for a return to something more than we are may be an inherent feeling in all of us. What it is, and how it got there is the topic for debate.

Carl Sagan is famous for his Cosmos television series, where he stated the words, “We are all star stuff”. This also is not a new concept, as Joni Mitchell penned similar words many years before Sagan reintroduced the idea. I have always found Sagan’s words somewhat ridiculous. Is it a scientific statement? What hard evidence does he have? Does anyone really believe that “star-stuff” or stardust can somehow “evolve” into a sentient race of people? It is not a factual conclusion, but rather a philosophical musing, rooted in nothing more than flawed humanist thinking. I don’t want to think of myself, or my lovely wife, or my precious children as “billion-year-old carbon”. The idea takes away from the wonder and miracle of life, which is far better explained by God’s hand.

I am beginning to see many examples such as these lyrics which attempt to combine the humanist way of thinking with religious expressions. Given that the author assumes we are simply a collection of carbon molecules, what place do the phrases “child of God” and “back to the garden” have in their argument? They don’t – they are merely an attempt to add to the mysticism of their lyrics in order to appear “artsy” or “enlightened”. This song -- one I used to sing out loud -- now takes on an anti-God aspect that I never saw before. It’s ruined for me.

One final point – has anyone taken note that the “billion-year-old carbon” line was replaced with a different line in the last chorus – a line that is much more true? Write me back with a comment if you discover what it is.


Next in the series...